My first question in regard toEngland’s next opponent is:
Where have all the good Italian strikers gone?
A country that has produced goal scoring legends such as Paolo Rossi, Toto Schillaci, Roberto Baggio, Filippo Inzaghi, Christian Vieri and Alessandro Del Piero are currently relying on the enigmatic talents of hothead Mario Balotelli, and Antonio Cassano, a player who despite once being the World’s most expensive teenager has often disappointed on the big stage. The truth is even at the age of 34, Udinese forward Antonio Di Natale is their most natural goalscorer, but despite scoring 135 times in 264 games for his club he has only managed 11 goals for the his country.
Compare these three to the list of industrious names that have gone before them and it’s clear to see in what area the Italians are currently lacking.
Italy’s greatest ever forward player, Roberto Baggio the ‘Divine Ponytail’, will unfortunately be remembered by most as the player who missed the decisive penalty during the shoot-out in the 1994 World Cup Final, although two Italians had already missed the sight of Baggio’s penalty sailing high over the crossbar is an image not easily forgotten. In Baggio’s defense he was the main reason that Italywhere in the final in the first place, scoring five times in the knock out stages including two in the semi final against Bulgaria – he also scored one and set up the other two in the quarter final against Spain. Baggio scored 27 times for the Azzurri in 56 games compared to 23 goals in 83 appearances for Balotelli, Cassano and Di Natale combined.
In 1982, Paolo Rossi won the Golden Boot as Italywon the World Cup, Rossi had just returned from a 3 year ban for his involvement in a betting scandal. Toto Schillaci repeated Rossi’s feat by winning the Golden Boot at the 1990 World Cup but Italy fell short, losing a semi final on penalties to Argentina. The one player that could rival Baggio as Italy’s greatest is Alessandro Del Piero who hit 27 goals for the national team but was much more of a creative force than a goalscorer, but he is only the second Italian to have played in 7 major international tournaments starting in 1996 culminating with the 2006 World Cup which Italy won, incidentally after a match fixing scandal. Is there a recurring theme here? The latest scandal to hit Italian Football broke around a month ago just in time for these Euro’s of course!
It is not like the Italians don’t have talent elsewhere in the squad, they have a history of producing great goalkeepers and in Gianluigi Buffon they still have one of the game’s best. Defending is also a great Italian art, seen time and again over the years by true legends of the game such as Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini. A theme carried on by Juventus player Giorgio Chellini who is currently the Italian’s best defender.
The strength of this current Italian team however can be found in the midfield, lead by playmaker Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo’s form this season for club and currently country has been as good as ever and should the Italians go far enough would be a good bet for player of the tournament. He has the eye for a pass that others can only dream of. Pirlo is ably assisted by the also impressive Claudio Marchisio who has all the attributes of a top midfield player and perhaps in not to true Italian style is keen to get forward, add defensive midfielder Thiago Motta, you have a midfield to rival any team in this competition. Winger Riccardo Montolivo is another talent, but guess what? He has only scored 1 goal in 34 international appearances. So where are all the good Italian strikers, and why aren’t the producing them like they used to? It might be a question that bodes well for England.